Blue Bear of the West
In the Zuni way, each of the six directions is protected by a different animal. Bear protects the west, mountain lion the north, wolf the east, badger the south, mole the lower regions or underground, and eagle the upper regions or skies. Each of these six directions also has a cardinal color: blue for west; yellow for north; white for east; red for south; black for lower; and all colors for upper. An animal carving in its cardinal color has more power, and thus Zuni protective sets often designate the color of each directional animal in some fashion. Before exotic stones were commonly available, animals would bear decorations or mineral paint indicating their cardinal color.
Theodore Kucate was the first Zuni carver known to carve commercially. His work was modeled after anthropologist Frank Hamilton Cushing's report to the Bureau of Ethnology in Washington, DC, in 1883. And it was this report that applied the term “fetich” to these carvings, a term that persists today.
This c.1940 bear by Theodore Kucate is carved of Nutria “sugar daddy” travertine, a honey-brown semi-translucent stone native to Zuni. It is designated “blue” by the addition of pieces of Blue Gem turquoise inlaid into the sides.
Our project for this year—and many more to come—is creating the Zuni Fetish Museum, where we will showcase this unique art form. For this museum, Theodore’s Blue Bear of the West is the perfect symbol, embodying history, culture, and art. Join us for the opening next summer and see this beautiful bear in person!
Collectors are so easy for special occasions. If you need a gift for a person who collects something, you already know what to look for. And if you wind up with something he already has, no matter. He’ll either expand his collection or use the duplicate as a gift for someone else. Ah, and there’s the other big advantage. As a collector, you have a stash of wonderful things to draw from for gifts to deserving people. I see many fabulous things pass through our shop on their way to other collections. They are “mine” for just a little while. But last winter, one came in that I loved so much I had to purchase it for myself: Ray Tsalate’s big coral-encrusted bullfrog. As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one who loved him. A dear friend who collects neither fetish carvings nor frogs was so enamored that he kept the card with Jeremiah’s photo next to his bed. My friend’s birthday was last month, and I gave the great bullfrog to him. Because, let’s face it, a friend is worth more than even the greatest fetish carving. So, now it is my birthday week. And Ray brought in another frog--a smaller, multi-colored baby creature, with those same looking-up-at-you eyes. Not quite as magnificent as the bullfrog, but still with plenty of attitude. This one is my birthday gift to me.
Focus is the hallmark of a truly interesting collection.
At our Tucson show earlier this month, a long-time collector explained that she has decided to limit herself to very special Zuni carvings. And she found one at the show: a large Sonoran Sunrise macaw by Loren Tsalabutie, showing all the variations of cuprite and chrysocolla colors to best advantage.
We have one customer who collects only Zuni-carved ceremonial dancers; another who collects unusual animals; and one who collects only mother-of-pearl carvings. One man collects nothing but mountain lions. One has a great fondness for purple stones. A friend who collects frogs of all origins, makes, and materials has a fetish bowl of Edna Leki frogs!
Focus can sharpen your collection and put a point on your efforts. One of our collectors checks in regularly to see if we have any new alien carvings for his collection. He recently emailed a photo of the 26 aliens he added to his already large collection in 2015. I post it here for non-believers.
Focus. The truth is out there.
It seemed like the perfect title for Sheldon Harvey’s first show since his exhibition in Paris last June. A show about the influence of the City of Light on this Navajo artist’s work.
After Paris. Who knew it would be so tragically poignant?
Sheldon’s show did not disappoint. There were scenes of Paris, portraits of women à la Picasso, sketches of Parisian people, figures evoking the weather and bustle of Paris.
Sheldon’s collectors did not disappoint either. Most had been to Paris themselves, and they chose to celebrate the Paris they knew and loved as seen through the eyes of this Native American artist, rather than dwell on the tragic events of a day earlier. It was a testament to life and art.
Regimes rise and fall. Men do unspeakable things to one another. Art endures. Even after Paris.
The 17 days or so of Indian Market are a collector's Paradise. And a gallery owner's Purgatory. There is a show almost every day, each one with a treasure to be found if you are up to the grueling search. You dare not skip one for fear of missing something. And we must work the gallery as well, because some of our collectors also come in for the early shows. Then we host a show of our own, this year at a private home in Santa Fe. And finally there is Market itself, an exhilarating and sometimes overwhelming experience. This year, I encountered two of our long-time collectors at Troy Sice's booth: one at her 20th Market and the other at her first. Their reactions were curiously similar. Both were thrilled to meet Troy and awe-struck by his winning work. Troy, of course, was perfectly cordial and friendly, posing for photos, a consummate professional. Later, I stopped to see the great potter and designer Virgil Ortiz, and was shoved aside by a collector who wanted to tell Virgil the story of a purchase he had made years ago. Virgil was polite and friendly and engaged, even though that collector was not going to buy anything that day. Every artist at Market, whether a prize winner or not, must endure both wide-eyed adulation and endless questions and stories, and most do it with grace. Especially considering that they have had little food and less sleep, and must sit in the hot sun all day. New Market-goers feel compelled to shop the entire 1200 or so booths. Seasoned goers make a plan and visit only their favorite artists or prize winners. Others just wander around taking it all in. Even after the previous two weeks of non-stop action, I get up at 4 to be at Market early and visit the artists we represent. But when the bar at the Anasazi opens, I am there for a mimosa and breakfast! Heaven ~ if you've survived Purgatory.
When do you stop collecting?
Every day we get people in the shop who say: I have no more room to collect anything. To which I should (but don't) say: You are not a real collector. Real collectors cannot resist the thrill of the chase. There is always something new or different or rare.
Years ago, I stayed at a bed and breakfast in historic Williamsburg, Virginia. It was one of those grand gracious southern colonial houses with a broad staircase and lots of rooms with crown molding. The people who owned it were retired and they hosted guests just for something to do. They also were collectors. They had china and glass and baskets and Mexican pots and inkwells. They had a complete collection of Hummel figurines. In fact, they had several "complete" collections. And that raises the question: when is a collection complete?
If your aim is to collect one example of a finite range of things, that might be attainable. If you decide to extend the range or upgrade the examples, your collection will continue to be a work in progress. And I guarantee that whatever your collection, it will spark an interest in something else that is collectible. We have a resident here in Old Town who has amassed several "complete" collections, donated them to various museums, and started all over again on something else.
So when do you stop? If you are a real collector, the answer is: Never.
Collectors are special people.
In so many ways.
First, each one is different. Some collect the newest, the brightest, the most unusual. Some collect historic. Some collect ethnographically used. All are absolutely passionate about what they prefer and why. None of that matters in the long run. Every collector is important. Collectors promote art and creativity. They support artists. They preserve history. They sustain cultural identity. They spark energy that promotes further collecting. The things we collect nurture our souls. And because those things have been collected, and therefore saved for future generations, they nurture other souls after us. Someone--lots of someones--collected the things in the Louvre. And the Smithsonian. In every museum everywhere. How dull would our world be without all those collections?
Collectors are indeed very special people.
Collecting by material
Early in my fetish collecting, I became enamored of Chinese turquoise, specifically the green stone with heavy black-to-gold matrix from the Hubei province. The carvings were pricey, so I didn't acquire many. Following that, I learned about native-to-Zuni stones, and religiously collected those. Beautiful, but mostly brown. So, I moved on to Royston seam turquoise, and boulder opal, and mother-of-pearl. I do have favorites, but I don't collect purely to have an example of every stone. It was years before I saw the beauty of ocean jasper, and it was almost gone before I got a couple of pieces. Same with Sonoran sunrise. And every week we get carvings in stones I've never seen before. There are people who collect strictly as an example of the material. The carving is secondary, and just a nice way to display their rock collection. Some of those collectors eventually appreciate the carvings as sculptural art, and others focus strictly on the mineral values. The reason is important only to the collector.
How did it start?
What do you collect?
I collect Zuni fetish carvings, Cochiti carvings, Pueblo pottery, baskets, sculpture, paintings, Japanese tea bowls, porcelain by my potter friend and her students, shoes.
My largest collection by number is Zuni fetishes. My first carving was a gift. I was attracted by a small glowing turquoise object in a case of pottery and asked what it was. I meant what is the object, what is the material, and what is it doing in the pottery case? It was a fluorite bear carved by Abby Quam, and the shop owner gave it to me. After that, during my frequent visits to the southwest, I always purchased an Abby Quam bear for my collection. The style was easy to spot even though Abby did not always sign her work. And she used many different stones, so I could usually find something new for my collection.
Ah, but that was early days.
Everyone collects something.